The PROTECT COVID-19 National Core Study on transmission and environment

Partnership for Research in Occupational, Transport and Environmental COVID Transmission.


The PROTECT COVID-19 National Core Study on transmission and environment is a UK-wide research programme improving our understanding of how SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) is transmitted from person to person, and how this varies in different settings and environments. This improved understanding will enable more effective measures to stop transmission, saving lives and getting society back towards ‘normal’.

The rate of SARS-CoV-2 transmission is largely determined by the interaction of three factors: the characteristics of the virus itself, the physical environment it is in, and the behaviour of people in that environment. The PROTECT study will improve our understanding of the role of each of these factors by addressing several key research questions relevant to each of them, including:

  • What dose of the virus is needed to infect someone?
  • How are droplets containing the virus generated, emitted and dispersed?
  • How does the viral load and particle size of aerosols emitted by infected people differ during different activities?
  • What characteristics of the physical environment enable the virus to survive?
  • What key factors (whether environmental or behavioural) are responsible for virus outbreaks in different industries, workplaces and local areas?
  • Which combinations of control measures (whether environmental or behavioural) are effective at stopping transmission and enabling normal activities to resume in different industries and places?

The PROTECT study is made up of six themes that use a complementary variety of research methods and scientific disciplines to address the research questions from different angles – including microbiology, building science, behavioural science and mathematical modelling – and ensure findings are turned into practical tools and advice for policymakers.

Led by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Andrew Curran, this critical work is being delivered by more than 70 researchers from 16 institutions across the UK. The PROTECT study began in October 2020, as part of the COVID-19 National Core Studies programme spearheaded by UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance. It is funded by HM Treasury until March 2023, with the final year focused on making findings more accessible and ensuring the programme’s legacy for future pandemic preparedness and the ongoing management of endemic respiratory diseases.


Research themes


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Receive quarterly email updates from the PROTECT study on how the COVID-19 virus transmits in different environments, and the most effective measures to control it.

Updates will include new evidence statements, briefings, journal papers, event invites and more, aimed at policymakers, businesses, public health and health and safety professionals, and researchers.